10 Reasons to Stop Bombing Afghanistan

Despite almost universal agreement that America "needs to do something" in response to terrorism, our heavy bombing of Afghanistan increasingly looks like a bad idea. While virtually all of us feel that strong steps should be taken to apprehend anyone behind the massive murders on September 11, when you add up all the facts, the pulverizing of a battered country just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Instead, by bombing Afghanistan, we are ...

1. Creating new terrorists. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent civilians have already been killed by U.S. bombing in pursuit of Osama bin Laden. The Pentagon has confirmed numerous instances of "collateral damage," including a 2,000-pound bomb that struck a residential area near Kabul.

The United States' perceived disregard for collateral damage may lead many to conclude that we are waging a war against Muslims writ large. In so doing, we are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of people who are necessary in the fight against terrorism.

2. Generating refugees. Our attacks on population centers are causing a huge refugee problem that neighboring countries can't handle. By October 12, 350,000 people had amassed in the northern Panjsher Gorge and over 150,000 had fled to the provinces of Tahor and Badakhshan. United Nations officials predict that 1.5 million will leave their homes, risking mass starvation in the brutal Afghan winter to escape the bombings.

Moreover, the U.N. refugee agency has been forced to halt work at six planned refugee camps on the Pakistan border because of opposition from Afghan tribal groups. Food convoys that previously entered Afghanistan by truck have been forced to indefinitely halt their shipments.

3. Ushering in regime as bad as the Taliban. The bombing campaign may well usher into power the Northern Alliance, a group some say is even more brutal than the already brutal Taliban. To many, this is a proposition fraught with peril. During their brief time in power from 1992 to 1996, the Northern Alliance scored poorly in the peaceful governance and human rights departments. And while intense efforts are underway at forming a broad pan-Afghan political coalition of anti-Taliban parties, some veteran diplomats and intelligence officers are skeptical that such a confederation would survive after a victory over the Taliban.

4. Increasing drug flow from Central Asia. A corollary to #3 -- if the Northern Alliance takes power, experts predict a new flood of heroin across the globe. According to U.N. officials, Afghanistan produces about 75 percent of the world's opium, which is used to make heroin.While the Taliban government attempted to slow down heroin production in large parts of Afghanistan (and largely succeeded), the Northern Alliance has continued to distribute heroin to help fund their efforts. If our bombing campaign helps ousts the Taliban, opium growth and sales will instantly soar.

5. Aiming at the wrong target. The suicidal hijackers who crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon where all from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, not Afghanistan. Rich Saudis fund and encourage the violent, fundamentalist breed of Islam from which the hijackers came. The religious schools that breed the radical mujahdeen, including many who have joined the Taliban Army, are mostly in Pakistan. Iraq and Iran fund and support terrorists. In other words, the terrorists are spread across many nations and not all harbored in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, numerous experts link the September 11 hijackers to an Egyptian group, Gama'at al-Islamiyya. Founded by Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, currently serving a life sentence for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Gama'at al-Islamiyya is best known for the November 1997 massacre of 62 tourists at the Temple of Luxor in Egypt and the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981.

6. Destabilizing Pakistan. Our bombing raids are destabilizing Pakistan, our reluctant ally with nuclear capabilities to the South and East of Afghanistan. Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, has presented his country as wholly allied with the U.S. against terrorists, but in fact many of his top officials remain dependent on a little-known but powerful fundamentalist party called Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam. Known more simply as JUI, this group helped incubate the Taliban -- and it may now spark civil war in its home country.

7. Turning bin Laden into a media superstar. By focusing huge amounts of energy on demonizing and pursuing one person (despite the existence of thousands of terrorists in the al Queda network), we have made Osama bin Laden larger than life.

Among many groups, bin Laden is viewed as a strong and powerful person who has evaded U.S. capture in the three years following his suspected involvement in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. People's affection for him lies not in his alleged terrorist activities, but in the strong anti-American sentiment that grips this part of the world. If our bombs finally strike him, or he is otherwise killed, he will become a celebrated martyr of the Muslim world.

8. Unfairly punishing a helpless population. To bring one man and his small band of followers to justice, we are heaping devastation on a powerless population that is already completely impoverished by war. Nobody in Afghanistan voted the Taliban into power in 1994; they seized and now maintain power by force. To "pressure" the Afghan people with a deadly bombing campaign, when they have no political power anyway, defies America's sense of fairness.

9. Being lured into a trap. Afghanistan is historically a quagmire, the only Central Asian country never conquered by Europeans. From 1979 to 1989, the Soviet Union poured untold monies and lives down the drain in an unwinnable guerilla war against Afghanistan. By being sucked into investing huge resources to find bin Laden, we could find ourselves stuck, ambushed and preoccupied, while terrorists go on with their work from many other Muslim countries.

10. There are smarter ways of fighting terrorism. Call it what you want -- "blowback," the law of unintended consequences, bad karma -- but we continue to dismiss the long-term impact of our powerful desire to find bin Laden. Lots of smart, experienced people suggest that the large-scale, clumsy, overkill approach of the U.S. military is the opposite of what we need to contain terrorism and find bin laden.

Why not treat terrorists like the criminals they are, building a long-term, world-wide coalition to stop terrorism that includes the U.N. and world court? If we use the media more effectively instead of operating in secret, and invest the billions of dollars we are spending to pulverize Afghanistan to address social and economic needs around the globe, we will be on a more productive path toward making the world safer from terrorism.

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